Health care industry is a prized target, experts say in wake of LifeLabs hack

Hackers accessed personal information of up to 15 million customers, almost all in Ontario and B.C.

LifeLabs signage is seen outside of one of the lab’s Toronto locations, Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

Cyber security experts say that the recent data hack at LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services, one of Canada’s largest medical services companies, is part of a broader problem faced by the health care industry.

LifeLabs revealed Tuesday that hackers gained access to the personal information of up to 15 million customers, almost all in Ontario and B.C., forcing the company to pay a ransom to retrieve and secure the data.

Raheel Quereshi, co-founder of Toronto-based consulting firm iSecurity, said Wednesday that the health care industry is a prized hacker target in recent years because victims often will pay a ransom to avoid an operational disruption.

iSecurity’s experience has been that the health care industry accounts for about the 48 per cent of the cases it has handled — although it wouldn’t reveal the identity of any of its 300 to 400 clients in Ontario.

“We completed, I think, more than 10 different cyber security responses this year, in health care. Some of them you’ve seen on the news and some of them didn’t make it to the news,” Quereshi said.

“So health care has been a big interest for the external threat agents and the hacker community.”

From the hacker’s point of view, he said, the health sector promises a good return on investment.

“The attackers are targeting health care sector more for financial gain than, really, trying to extract the information and sell it elsewhere. At the end of the day, they just want to get paid once they get in.”

Rob Martin, a vice-president for Waterloo, Ont.-based cyber security firm eSentire, agrees that criminals may move on to other victims after they’re paid — but that’s not necessarily the case.

“If someone is complacent, and doesn’t remediate or resolve the problem that caused things to happen in the first place, that threat will often times recur … and hold people hostage again.”

What’s more, Martin said, the criminals are “very opportunistic” and can find other ways to sell the information contained within the hacked database.

“On what’s referred to often as the dark web there are electronic sites … where you can buy identities and personal information quite inexpensively depending on the value of that data,” Martin said.

LifeLabs said Tuesday that the compromised database included health card numbers, names, email addresses, login, passwords and dates of birth but said it wasn’t sure how many of the files were accessed during the breach.

Privacy commissioners from B.C. and Ontario said they would examine the scope of the breach, the circumstances leading to it, and what measures LifeLabs could have taken to prevent and contain it.

LifeLabs chief executive Charles Brown, who has apologized publicly, assured the public that its consultants have seen no evidence that the data has been trafficked by criminal groups.

It’s offering customers one year of free protection that includes dark web monitoring and identity theft insurance. It will also contact about 85,000 customers in Ontario whose lab results were accessed.

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The 1946 building in Sooke known as the Tin Grotto, located at 2076 Otter Point Rd, is set to be demolished. Council awarded the demolition contract to Maple Ridge-based T&T Demolition. (Aaron Guillen - Sooke News Mirror)
Sooke approves demolition for dilapidated downtown building

‘Tin Grotto’ to be reduced to rubble in weeks

Items seized over four days of targeted vehicle checks Nanaimo and Victoria by members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. (CFSEU-BC photo)
Gang enforcement team seizes drugs and weapons in Victoria and Nanaimo

Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. checked 33 vehicles over four days

Investigators seized sophisticated equipment including credit card embossers, credit card PIN machines, heavy duty printers and computers used to create fraudulent cards. (West Shore RCMP handout)
West Shore RCMP arrest two, find 1,000 pieces of stolen ID in Langford

Investigation began after fraudulent bank draft used to buy vehicle in Colwood

Police continue to investigate a break-and-enter in this Sidney jewelry store in the 2500-block of Beacon Avenue. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Thieves hit Sidney jewelry store

Sidney/North Saanich RCMP says incident is not part of a larger trend

Sam Liu, an assistant professor of kinesiology at UVic, has found extroverts, particularly people who are very active and social, are experiencing higher levels of distress throughout the pandemic. (Provided by UVic Photo Services)
University of Victoria study finds extroverts experiencing higher stress levels during pandemic

Degree of extroversion influences individual perception of stress during the pandemic

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

The Calgary Zoo is aiding in recovery efforts for the Vancouver Island marmot, an endangered species. Pictured here, a marmot at Mount Washington. (Black Press file)
Despite challenges, 2020 good year for Vancouver Island marmot population

In 2019, the foundation counted 60 pups; this year, it reached 46

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

The duffel bags were found to contain 84 pounds of cocaine, valued at approximately $1.2 million and 198 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at approximately $960,000. Photo courtesy U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
2 men accused of fleeing border agents near U.S.-B.C. border with $2M in drugs

Cocaine and methamphetamine seized by U.S. law enforcement in remote Idaho area near Canadian border

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers, staff by parents must stop: Chilliwack soccer club

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

FILE – The Queen of Alberni ferry leaves the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in Delta bound for Vancouver Island, Sunday, July 29, 2007. (CP PHOTO/Richard Lam) CANADA
Mechanical failure leaves nearly 200 passengers stranded on BC Ferries ship for hours

A tug arrived after dark to safely nudge the vessel into a berth so travellers could finally disembark

Ridge Meadows RCMP (Black Press)
Maple Ridge X-ray tech convicted of sexual assault dating back 30 years

Allen James Brooks is expected to be sentenced in January 2021

BC Liberal Leader Andrew Wilkinson leaves the stage after announcing he is stepping down as party leader, during a news conference in Burnaby, B.C., on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Too rural, not enough diversity, soul searching needed, say BC Liberals

Elections BC says there are about 600,000 mail-in and absentee ballots across the province still to count

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to provide an update on the COVID pandemic in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. Canada has reached a grim milestone in the COVID-19 pandemic, surpassing 10,000 novel coronavirus deaths. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Alberta COVID deaths pushes Canada past milestone of 10,000 deaths

Canada crossed the threshold of 5,000 deaths on May 12, a little over two months after the first was reported

Most Read